Chapter Pending: A Boyhood Ghost

 

Author’s Note:

 

This is a reworking of the very beginning of the novel in order to accommodate the new musical thread which I’m adding to the story.  With that in mind, this could well be the new, first chapter of the entire novel.  We shall see, as this project is ever-changing.  I will be posting the musical thread here on the ‘MUSIC’ section of the website.

 

 

As Phil approached the house, he could already see his next musical trigger waiting for him.  It was Detective Redmond’s racing-green Triumph 1300, which for Phil, was as good as synonymous for the Canadian hard rock band Triumph.  It didn’t help matters that both Redmond’s car and the band had come into being in 1975 and that, as rumour had it, Redmond had her glove compartment filled with hard rock sweets from Broadstairs.

I mean, seriously, could coincidence be any less coincidental than that?

Triumph?  1975?  Hard rock?

It was UNCANNY the way things fell into place sometimes.

Christ, Phil hadn’t even passed the vintage vehicle yet, and he was already hearing the band Triumph’s hit ‘Magic Power’ blaring in his brain which, to be quite honest, was a bit much at that ungodly hour.  It wasn’t even five o’clock in the morning, and he was already fending off the vision of Rik Emmett playing the electric guitar in his red and white striped jumpsuit to euphoric concert goers in 1987.

Thinking of stripes, Phil hated them with an all-caps PASSION.  It didn’t matter if they were vertical, horizontal, pinstripes or as thick as the stripes on a zebra crossing.  He loathed them all.  In fact, there’d been instances when he’d been nauseous and the sight of stripes had made him vomit, vomiting being another thing he detested, primarily because, every time he did, he felt like he was going to die.  Sometimes, when he’d been negotiating with his stomach as strategically as if he were negotiating for the release of hostages, Claire had said, “Would it help if I put my stripy jumper on so you can get this over with?”

When she’d said that, he’d whispered that he’d rather continue with his gastrointestinal negotiations than have that striped abomination be the last thing he laid eyes on in this life.

However, thankfully, that dawn, he wasn’t nauseous, and so, Rik Emmett’s stripes, in their remembered form, didn’t have much leverage.  Besides, the lyrics to that song were brilliant in his books.  Every time he heard those words, he felt some undefinable feeling.  Nostalgia?  Inspiration?  Invincibility? Or a mix of all three?  He wasn’t sure, but whatever that feeling was, it was an overwhelming one which made him feel like he could rule the world, not in a soft popish, ‘everybody-wants-to’ Tears for Fears sort of way, but rather in another sort of way; he just hadn’t found the accompaniment in his vast musical archives for that specific emotion yet, so ‘Magic Power’ would have to stand alone for the time being.

As Phil approached Redmond’s Triumph, he decided to leave the space behind it for the ambulance when it arrived, and so he passed the house and made a right on Beech Street, breaking the rules and parking on the double yellow line.  Twinging with lower back pain, he struggled from his vehicle and stretched before he closed the door and walked back to the corner where Beech and Harlow met.  Turning left onto Harlow, he paused, considering how strange it was that in the twenty-five years he’d been an officer, he’d never been called to that precise location.  He’d been everywhere in the Heath for his work, but never there, never at the far end of Harlow on the very edge of town.

He had been there before, however; he knew that much.

But not for many years.

For how many years?

He didn’t know.

But he had the bizarre sensation that he was retracing his own footsteps.

It had to be the park he concluded a split-second later.  For he’d often spent time there, especially in his boyhood, or at the annual fair with Claire when they’d been younger, or later, as a police officer, when there’d been trouble in and around the public toilets on the northeast side beside the rhododendron bushes, not far from the playground and the bandstand.  And why was it, he asked himself, that certain sites invited trouble whilst others remained pristine and undisturbed?  But then again, the same could be said for  people, he reasoned, shaking his head.  If he’d learned anything in his time on the force, it’d be that the distribution of dysfunction and hard-knocks simply wasn’t fair.

Philadephus Park.

Phil hesitated anew and looked over Harlow at the park.

From the plaques strategically placed throughout the grounds, he knew that ‘philadephus’ was the botanical name for the colloquial ‘mock orange’, the shrub with dark green leaves and small white flowers which grew in abundance, filling the air from May to July with its intoxicating perfume.  Being April, the shrub hadn’t yet bloomed.  Phil, however, could almost smell the spicy, citrusy fragrance from where hestood; the aroma was so potent, it was able to foreshadow itself.

And then it occurred: the moment.

A split-second haunting, you could say.

It was so fleeting that it took place in a heartbeat.

Phil found himself staring at the trees which surfaced from the tattered mist, their branches quivering in the pre-dawn breeze. The view was breathtaking, Phil thought, noticing how the trees approached the water’s edge to watch the swans emerging from beneath the willow branches curtained along the banks.  But suddenly, he glimpsed himself.  He was twelve and a half, sitting on the bench which faced the willow trees.  That was him for certain.  There and gone in the blink of an eye.  But there.  In his trousers, a button-down shirt, and a skinny black tie to honour the Beatles tucked into his jumper.

Christ.

That was him.  By the lake in the dark, watching the swans.

Do the math, Phil, he commanded, quickly coming up with 1981.

That was 1981.   It must’ve been.

What the hell had he been doing there like that in 1981?  And what the hell was he doing here now, getting fleetingly sidetracked by such a useless question?  Because, at the end of the day, it didn’t matter  what he’d been doing in his childhood or his adolescence.  The point was that he was here now and, as the only officer at the station, he’d been summoned by Serge to get himself to Redmond at 49 Harlow Street  because there’d been an apparent suicide and he needed to be there when the ambulance arrived on the scene which, by the sounds of it, would be any minute.  And in accordance with that realisation, his boyhood ghost vanished, scared off by the sirens likely.

His ghost may’ve gone, but the memory lingered. For as Phil passed Redmond’s car and turned toward his destination, he recalled having looked at this very same house that night when he’d been watching the swans. He remembered having looked at it and having concluded that whoever lived in such luxury couldn’t possibly have had any problems, not like he’d had at twelve and a half.   Of course, now, at his age, he knew he’d been naïve to have thought that the rich were exempt from life’s trials and tribulations.  And that couldn’t be more obvious at present as he was about to step onto a suicide scene at the house – the house which –

Was for sale?

Staring at the ‘FOR SALE’ sign secured on the fence beside the wrought-iron gate, Phil did a doubletake.  How strange.  Serge hadn’t mentioned that the house was for sale.  He’d simply said, “Get yourself up to 49 Harlow ASAP.  The emergency workers are on their way.  There’s been a suicide.”

Phil hated the word ‘suicide’.

He wished it didn’t exist.

But it did.

And he’d investigated all too many of them in his time.  And whether it was because he was getting more empathetic with age, or because there were increasingly more of them these days, he was finding them harder and harder to deal with.  In fact, this time around, when the word had erupted from Serge’s mouth, Phil had felt shockwaves riddle his whole body and had had to steady himself against his desk.

Not another one, he’d thought with a lump in his throat and a pang in his chest.

As Phil raised his hand to open the wrought-iron gate, his wedding ring glinted in the light coming from one of the Victorian streetlamps the town had restored and rewired.  As the beam hit the never-ending band, Phil flinched, acknowledging that the forever he and Claire had pledged to share on their wedding day, as of late, had been fraying at the seams.

Long gone were their Ferris wheel nights at the park at his back.  Truth be told, long gone was everything but their quarrels. If he and Claire weren’t careful, they were going to become part of the fifty percent of failed marriages of which they’d always sworn they’d never be a part.

As Phil pushed forward on the gate, the word ‘ROSEGATE’ engraved on a small iron oval split down the middle as if to prove it was inevitable that things assumed to be a unit were destined to separate.

The pang he’d felt upon seeing his wedding ring deepened into a full-blown ache.  Heartache perhaps?  Because there was nothing that he wanted more than for things with Claire to work out the way they’d planned when they were seventeen, and twenty-five, and thirty-three, and forty-one.  But they –

“Jolly good, Owens,” Detective Redmond, appearing at the front door in a hazmat suit, plastic shoe covers, a cap, and Latex gloves, interrupted his disheartening train of thought.  “For God’s sake, get your gear on.  I want you upstairs before the emergency team starts messing us about.  I’ve just let Viv Musgrave the realtor return home.  She’ll be at the station for questioning at nine o’clock sharp.”

“Viv Musgrave?” Phil questioned, donning the protective gear that Redmond placed on the front step.  “What does she have to do with this?”

“She was the one who discovered the victim and called,” Redmond replied, cocking her head toward the sound of the approaching sirens, and urging Phil into the large foyer.  “According to her, she had a showing this morning at eight o’clock before the potential buyers were headed for work.  She’d come by to change the flowers and get the lighting right, spruce the place up.  She said it had been some time since she’d shown the house and was giving herself a good bit of time to get it right.”

“And the victim, Detective?”

“Granddaughter of Mrs. Clara Holloway, the late homeowner.  Early twenties I should think.  Viv discovered her in the top floor study.  Looks like she slit her wrists with an old letter knife.  Best brace yourself, Owens.  It’s not a pretty sight.  Evidence we’ve got a growing problem in this country.”

Tugging on the edges of his Latex gloves to rid them of the creases, Phil eyed the tapered staircase which zigzagged upward through the centre of the foyer, creating two short passageways which reunited into one large corridor behind it.  And as he looked toward the upstairs landing, he experienced the same sensation he’d experienced moments prior on the corner of Beech and Harlow: an overwhelming feeling that he’d occupied this space before.

But when?

As far as he could remember, he’d never been in this building or on its grounds.  And yet, he felt as if he had – not once, but many times.  In fact, as he followed Redmond up the stairs, he began to see what lay ahead, not ‘see-see’ it, but rather ‘think-see’ it with his inner eye. Three steps up and he already saw the landing’s left-hand steps which led onto the second floor, then the middle bedroom opening to the right, the bathroom up ahead, and to the right of that, the long, thin corridor which elbowed to a bedroom at the back.   He already saw the master bedroom up and to the left, a spacious room which overlooked the park, and then the narrow stairwell leading to the rooms on the top floor of the house.  He saw those rooms as well:  the study to his right, the storage room to his left.

It was as if ‘he’ and ‘himself’ were separate entities. as if he were ahead of himself. And yet, how many years ahead of himself could he possibly be? If he’d never been there in this life, it’d have to be more than fifty.

“How old is the house?” he asked on Redmond’s heels.

“The houses on this street were built in the late 1820’s I believe,” Redmond replied over her shoulder.  “This one belonged to Sir Gregory Wells, the geologist.”

“What?” Phil huffed, incredulously.  “The man whose statue stands in the Green?”

“Yes,” the detective answered. “The man we get to stare at every day from the precinct windows.”

Your window, you mean,’ Phil thought, picturing Redmond’s plush office which had a full view of the town centre.  ‘Because the rest of us can’t see a bloody thing from the cubicles on the police floor, even less in that fluorescent lighting.’

“Well, I can’t see him from where I sit,” said Phil politely, modifying his thought.

“Don’t complain, Owens,” Redmond responded.  “You lot have got it pretty good.”

Phil did as he was told and didn’t complain, not that he’d have the energy to as, inch by inch, the house in his mind manifested around him to such a degree, he was beginning to believe that he truly had been there before.  Because – Christ – ‘this-that-and-the-other’ was EXACTLY how he’d imagined it a nanosecond before.  ‘He’ was proving to ‘himself’ that reincarnation was a bona fide possibility.

As gobsmacked as Phil was at the phenomenon-in-progress (known to most as ‘déjà-vu’), he was still capable of imagining it as what he liked to call a ‘TV moment’, a real-life instance which was so compatible with the screen, it was as good as on a show already.  And if that real-life scene was really good, he upped the ante by deeming it a BAFTA-fiable moment.

While what was happening now was certainly a TV moment, it wasn’t BAFTA-fiable.  The aesthetics weren’t quite right.  There was something naff about his and Redmond’s real-life emergency attire. I mean, seriously, how could their thespian representatives wafting up the stairs like puffy, pale blue clouds provoke heart-pounding suspense?  They’d look more like characters on a children’s television program than coppers on a serious drama.  But that’s where the music would come in.  Because, if the soundtrack were ominous enough, they could be prancing up the stairs like lollypops and they’d still elicit bone-chilling shivers in their viewers.  With that thought, came the recent memory of Triumph’s ‘Magic Power’ which, for all unfamiliar with the hard rock masterpiece, is, as the name suggests, about the abracadabra of music.  That delirium-inducing song, in overriding Rik Emmett’s red and white striped jumpsuit, is living proof that music can blind you to any clothing, including cloud-like protective gear.

But the TV moment ended there, because Phil and Redmond were crossing the threshold into the study where the victim, a young dead woman in her early twenties, was waiting for them.